Russia’s comeback to the G8 is the hottest topic of the last two days. Donald Trump’s statement and Emmanuel Macron’s courteous nods at Russia made us seriously think about such a scenario. We tell you whether the RF comeback is likely, what political fallouts Ukraine should expect and how the new government should act.

How likely is Russia’s return to the G8? 

Dmytro Sinchenko, chairman of the NGO Political Science Association, asserts that nothing critical has happened so far since the Kremlin’s return is possible only after the de-occupation and return of the territories, or… the consent of Ukraine itself.

“The position of all the countries of the G7 has long been known and remains unchanged – they are all interested in the speedy return of Russia to their international club, but this will only be possible in the event of “resolution of the Ukrainian crisis”, that is, the de-occupation and regain of control over the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. That’s why nothing extraordinary has happened yet. Yet. So, Moscow will be able to return to the G8 club without freeing our territories if only Ukraine agrees. Judging by the failures in the international arena of the new government, this, unfortunately, should be borne in mind.”

Pavlo Satsky, associate professor at the Vadym Hetman National Economic University, explains: Russia fits into the diplomatic format of the countries of the G7.

Russia also has significant diplomatic achievements in relations with politically and economically influential countries of the world that are out the G7, such as China, India, Turkey. This is another weighty motive to include Russia into the “seven/eight”. In the G7, the positions of its participants are quite interesting. The willingness of the USA in France to return Russia is troubling. However, Germany and the UK oppose the return of Russia. There are all chances to count on the principle position of Canada. That is, Anglo-Saxon unity in this matter has a certain line of division. Japan, however, for its consent to the return Russia to the “seven” may require an unbearable price for Russia. That is, in fact, Russia can only fully count on Italy’s support.”

Oleh Horetsky, a lawyer, managing partner at the Horetsky & Partners Law Firm, believes that Trump and Macron simply have no desire to get a tough policy at Putin, because 5 years after Moscow’s G8 expulsion, the Kremlin leader has not made any concessions. Although, it’s hard to say that the leaders of the countries are ready to forgive Russia.

“I believe that the G8 leaders want to shake hands with Russia, which is beneficial for them, as Europe is interested in ending the war in eastern Ukraine, as one of the conditions for Russia’s return to the G8 was called ‘finding a solution for Ukraine’s issue’.”

Instead, Natalia Belitser, an expert at the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, noted that such a scenario is unlikely since Merkel and Johnson have already made their choice.

“After the first bitter and sometimes even panicky reaction in Ukraine to Macron and Trump’s statements, some events have occurred that made this scenario unlikely. In particular, I mean the joint press conference of Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, as well as Macron’s ‘clarification’ of his position on this matter. And I would advise Ukrainian journalists to pay less attention to Russian sources of information, instead of being more attentive to primary sources (rather than Russian interpretations).”

Yurii Shulipa, lawyer and director of the International Union of the Institute of National Policy, sees the leaders’ ambiguous statements as a “game of good and evil policemen”. Apart from that, the expert views Russia’s comeback to the G8 as unlikely.

“Macron is a young and ambitious politician. By curtseying for Putin and portraying a peacemaker in a ‘conflict in the Donbas’, he demonstrates to Merkel and Johnson that France wants to occupy a leading position in the European Union and increase his rating. It is known that recently, due to the protests of the ‘yellow vests’, Macron’s rating has fallen dramatically.”

What do these initiatives tell about?

Andrii Martynov, Doctor of History and leading researcher at the Institute of History of International Relations and Foreign Policy of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, considers the resumption of talks about Russia’s return to the G8 as an attempt of the West to influence the struggle of the Kremlin groups which discuss the fate of the occupied Donbas.

“It is significant that the issue of Crimea is beyond the Minsk agreements. The question is open whether Putin is ready to make symbolic concessions to the West, or believes that such a course could accelerate the fall of his regime. So far, there is no consolidated position of various influence groups in Moscow on a possible revision of the Minsk agreements towards the return of the Donbas without excessive political demands on Ukraine (total amnesty, special DNR-LNR status, guarantees of refusal to join NATO, actual refusal of Crimea).”

Dmytro Sinchenko advises considering such statements about the alleged necessity of Moscow’s return to the G8 as nothing more than a test for the new government of Ukraine.

“If we swallow it, if we do not respond, it will undoubtedly be perceived as permission to further rapprochement of the West and the Kremlin and the course for ‘restart and forgiveness’. If we oppose – the sanctions will remain, and if our diplomacy is active and systematic – even new achievements are possible. However, the preconditions for such achievements will be discussed after the appointment of a new Minister of Foreign Affairs and the promulgation of his work priorities.”

Natalia Belitser notes that it is extremely difficult to predict Trump’s policies but Macron is apparently trying to pull back leadership in the EU.

“President Trump’s foreign policy is generally unpredictable and untypical for a leader of great power (however, let’s recall that there was already more than one precedent when, soon after Trump’s courteous nods at Putin and the RF, new sanctions against Russia appeared). As for Macron, he seems very keen to play the role of a new EU leader, to show some ‘breakthroughs’ in certain areas – unfortunately, at the expense of Ukraine at the moment.”

Pavlo Satsky assessed Trump’s and Macron’s initiative as an “advance fee” for the Russian side. The expert assumes that such actions should be seen as a “pre-emptive step”, a price that they are ready to pay for progress in the Ukrainian issue.

“It is already clear that at least one of the members of the G7 should be motivated to support the return of Russia and, in fact, it is the progress in Ukraine’s issue that can be a motivator. As for Russia, its comeback to the G7 gives additional playground where it could discuss Ukraine’s issues without Ukraine’s participation. Also, it will be a vital step for bettering its foreign image.”

What does Russia’s possible return to the G8 mean for Ukraine? 

Oleh Horetsky is convinced that the return of Russia to the G8 could seriously weaken Ukraine’s position in the international arena and lead to the loss of subjectivity in the negotiation processes. This will ultimately have a negative impact on the political and economic situation in Ukraine.

“The West may require Ukraine to execute the political part of the Minsk agreements: granting the Donbas special status (the actual federalization of Ukraine), amnesty of gunmen, holding local elections, etc. in exchange for concessions of the Russian Federation in the form of withdrawal of Russian servicemen from the east of Ukraine.”

Natalia Belitser is convinced that in any case for Ukraine such a situation would be a sign of neglect of the interests and fair demands, supported by strong arguments.

“This could even be seen as a first step towards lifting or at least mitigating the sanction regime. But since such a move requires the consent of all the G7 members, we hope it will not happen.”

Instead, Dmytro Sinchenko assures that it is too early to talk about such a scenario.

“Indeed, based on the official position of the G7 member countries, this should have meant that Ukraine would regain control over its sovereign territories, and Moscow would pay us an indemnity. We understand that this scenario looks fantastic today, though I have no doubt that sooner or later it will take place.”

Ukraine’s further steps

Andrii Martynov stresses that, first of all, it is necessary to regain the initiative in the process of peaceful settlement under any circumstances.

“If our steps are perceived positively, then peace and the normalization of international relations in Europe will be the price. If not, Russia will be sanctioned for additional several years.”

Oleh Horetsky explained that if Ukraine expresses its public disagreement with Russia’s return to the G8, it should focus its foreign policy on cooperation with Britain.

“London obviously dislikes Moscow and believes that it is necessary to reconsider Russia’s return to PACE, in particular in connection with the detention and beating of demonstrators in Moscow. Negotiations with China and the Baltic countries can also be effective. Ukraine needs to act with extreme caution not to incite the G7 countries. At the same time, if Ukraine does not show ‘geopolitical claws’, we will fade at the background. The West must understand that Russian politics are a threat to the entire civilized world.”

Dmytro Sinchenko believes that Ukraine should assert the inadmissibility of lifting any sanctions from Moscow, including participation in the G8, until the Crimea and Donbas are de-occupied and all territories returned.

“Ukraine must grow its diplomatic network and increase its influence. Ukraine must do its informational work in the world. Ukraine must become stronger both politically, economically and militarily. That is, nothing extraordinary – Ukraine must do everything to win the Kremlin on the international front. And on the domestic, by the way, as well.”

But Pavlo Satsky advises the authorities to step up the forces to reconcile positions in the Donbas with countries that are already against Russia’s return to the G8.

“First of all, it should be Canada and Germany. As for the UK, this state now has the Brexit issue in the first place and has already given signals that it is ready to provide significant support to Ukraine, but after solving this key issue for it. The basis for cooperation with Japan might become issues that are still open since World War II. Here it is worth paying attention to humanitarian cooperation with Japan. This country should be motivated so that it does not lower prices for its possible concessions to Russia.”

Nevertheless, Natalia Belitser is convinced that the current events are reviving faster than the new government has time to learn and gain the necessary experience. That’s why the expert does not expect a decent reaction.

“Unfortunately, the ignorance and weakness of the country’s head in the sphere of foreign policy, as well as the attempt to get rid of as many ‘ex’ high-ranking officials, including experienced diplomats, have already significantly weakened Ukraine’s position in the international arena. Events revive faster than representatives of the new government have time to learn and gain the necessary experience. Therefore, unfortunately, an adequate response, both public and through “non-public diplomacy,” can hardly be expected.

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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